When looking across the MLB standings, something seems… lopsided.
In the American League, the races are not tight or deep. The smallest division lead is 4.5 games – the Astros over the A’s in the AL West. The Twins have a five-game lead over the second-place in the Central while the Yankees are up six on the Rays in the East.
None of the three divisions have two teams within 8.5 or fewer games from the division lead. In other words, the Wild Card race could be intriguing, but there’s a strong chance the divisions are won by the teams currently occupying first place.
That might not be the case in the National League.
For one, the NL will see a “wildly” entertaining Wild Card race here in 2019.
Eight National League clubs are within 4.5 games of a Wild Card spot and seven teams are within 3.5 games of a Wild Card spot.
However, for the sake of this piece, let’s check in on the divisional odds in the senior circuit and decide whether or not there’s value to be had in placing a bet on any of these clubs.
*Odds courtesy of Bovada
**Divisional/Playoff percentages courtesy of FanGraphs
Atlanta Braves (-900)
A ton of off-season buzz was generated within the NL East as the Phillies, Mets and Nationals all made several impact moves on both the trade and free agent front.
Did we forget about the reigning NL East champs, though?
The Braves quietly added Josh Donaldson to guard third base – a move that is currently paying big-time dividends – while the offense as a whole is tied for 6th with a .334 wOBA on the season.
As good as the offense is, the Braves need pitching help. Both Kevin Gausman and Mike Foltynewicz had disastrous seasons before Gausman hit the IL and Foltynewicz was demoted to the minors. Mike Soroka has been wonderful, and Julio Teheran’s 3.71 ERA is solid despite some ugly peripherals – but the Braves fall behind many other NL contenders when it comes to starting pitching.
Armed with a 6.5-game lead in the East, there’s a good chance the Braves’ offense can carry them to an NL East crown. That said, I’m seeing absolutely zero value in the current odds.
Washington Nationals (+550)
If I am an NL contender, I do not want to face the Nationals in a playoff series.
The thought of facing Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg in three consecutive games is downright scary. Scherzer is once again possessed on the mound and is now the odds-on favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award.
The Nationals have actually been one of the best teams in baseball for a good chunk of time. Since June 1st, the Nationals have gone 25-10, but have gained just 1.5 games on the Braves during that time as Atlanta has gone 27-11 in that same stretch.
In that same span, the offense is tied for ninth with a .335 wOBA while the starting pitching ranks first with a 3.05 ERA. If they can fix their 29th-ranked bullpen at the deadline the Nationals are in business.
There is some notable value with the Nationals here. On top of getting Washington at +550 to continue their comeback on the Braves, we can also get the Nats to win the NL Pennant at +900 or the World Series at +2000.
Philadelphia Phillies (+1000)
The Phillies were making good on their plethora of offseason additions early on, but have been tripped up to the point where they are only a playoff team less than a quarter of the time.
The offense hasn’t been nearly as good as it is on paper, but the pitching hasn’t held up its end of the bargain, either. The Phillies rank 16th with a rotation ERA of 4.60 on the season while the likes of Jake Arrieta, Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff, and Nick Pivetta all have ERAs of at least 4.54 as starters this season.
The offense has been more disappointing given the preseason hype as the Phils rank 19th with a .315 wOBA on the season. Their troubles have largely been on the road where they are just 20-26 on the season while going 29-20 at home.
It’s hard to imagine a ton of reinforcements given the offseason spending spree, but it appears the Phillies will need some in order to keep pace with the Braves and Nationals.
It’s hard not to see some value here with the Phillies given the talent level on the field. However, while I can see the offense turning around, it’s hard to see the current rotation faring much better in the second half than they did in the first. I’m avoiding the Phillies as a result.
New York Mets (+12500)
The Mets grabbed plenty of offseason headlines as well with several moves that indicated a win-now mentality.
Aboard came Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, Jeurys Familia, and Justin Wilson. Add in a Rookie of the Year performance from Pete Alonso and the lights-out trio of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, the Mets are all set, right?
It couldn’t be going worse. The only players pulling their weight, and more, from the above set of names, are Alonso and deGrom. Syndergaard and Wheeler have been far from consistent while Cano and Ramos are performing well under career norms at the plate.
Along with one of baseball’s most disastrous bullpens, the Mets have struggled to contend in a crowded senior circuit this season.
With only a sliver of divisional hopes, there’s absolutely no way a wager should be placed on the Mets who should be full-on sellers within the next couple of weeks.
Miami Marlins (+300000)
The Marlins weren’t expected to contend and that’s precisely what has happened.
The good news is the Marlins’ rotation has actually been among the best in baseball this season. Miami’s 3.93 starters ERA ranks sixth in baseball. That’s the good news.
The bad news is everything else. Their offense ranks dead-last with a .286 wOBA on the season while the bullpen ranks 23rd with a 4.95 ERA in 2019.
Having quality young pitching is the name of the game in this league, however, and the Marlins have just that. If Derek Jeter’s group can find some young, productive bats, the Marlins could be closer to contention than you may think.
Certainly not happening this year, but keep an eye on the Marlins within the next couple of weeks and into the offseason to see if the front office wants to add some offense to complement their nice stock of young arms.
Chicago Cubs (+120)
Now for the most entertaining division in the sport.
The Cubs are atop the NL Central by 2.5 games over the Brewers, however, just 6.5 games separate this entire division. In other words, these standings are going to change on a daily basis as the season moves along.
Everything is pretty good in Chicago, though. The offense ranks sixth, the starting pitching ranks seventh and the bullpen ranks 12th and should improve with the addition of future Hall of Famer Craig Kimbrel.
After a crushing final stretch to their 2018 season, the Cubs appear to be fixated on ensuring they don’t fall short again here in 2019.
The Cubs are good, there’s no doubt about that. The chances of winning the division are good and we are getting some decent value with +120 odds to do so. That said, it’s going to be far from easy and any bet on any team in this division will take you on a roller coaster ride, for better or for worse.
Milwaukee Brewers (+225)
Man, it’s tough sledding in this NL Central.
On one hand, you can look at the Brewers at just two games over .500 and conclude that they are underperforming. On the other hand, it’s such a tight and deep division that there are no easy games and therefore the five Central clubs get bunched together as a result.
Milwaukee is getting another MVP-caliber season from Christian Yelich and once again sport one of the most potent lineups in baseball.
They will certainly require some starting pitching, however, as they have received just a 4.68 ERA from their starters, good for 18th in baseball. Zach Davies and Brandon Woodruff have been good, but Davies owns some scary peripherals and a minuscule 5.95 K/9 rate. Milwaukee’s starting pitching would be severely outmatched against any NL contender come playoff time.
You cannot rule out the Crew as long as they sport that deep and dynamic. It’s hard to fathom the Brewers going through the trade deadline without adding an impact starter, or two, so there’s some more value to be had with the Brewers to take down this division for the second straight season.
St. Louis Cardinals (+260)
It seems the Cardinals have been spinning their wheels this season and can’t seem to go on any consistent run to put their name at the top of the Central.
Like the Phillies – but not to the same extent – the Cardinals’ offense hasn’t been able to live up to expectations after acquiring Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the winter. Goldschmidt has scuffled – by his standards – to a .250 average and .764 OPS on the season – numbers that fall well under his usual MVP-caliber output.
All told, the Cardinals are tied for 22nd with a .307 wOBA on the season, but fortunately their pitching staff as a whole ranks eighth with a 4.04 ERA on the season. Losing closer Jordan Hicks hurts, so the Cardinals have more than one area to address if they want to make a push towards the top of this division.
There’s no counting out the Cardinals as they sit just three games out of first and with 69 games left on the schedule. Once again, there’s a case to be made for a Cardinals wager at valuable +260 odds.
Pittsburgh Pirates (+1700)
The pre-season hype surrounding this division revolved around the three clubs above while even the Reds made some win-now offseason moves, but the Pirates are refusing to go away.
Led by Josh Bell and his MVP-caliber season at the plate, the Pirates have been surprisingly productive on offense as they sit 18th with a .319 wOBA, ahead of the Phillies and Cardinals among NL contenders.
It’s surprising that their roughly league-average offense and 22nd-ranked starting pitching have them on the outskirts of the NL Central race.
However, their -53 run differential is the second-worst mark in the National League behind only the Marlins. With that, it’s tough to see Pittsburgh getting any closer to the top of the division, especially after the trio of clubs ahead of them buy at the deadline.
The Royals aren’t worth any wagers at 25.5 games out, and it could still be a while before any Royals futures can be considered.
Cincinnati Reds (+1500)
I like what the Reds did in the offseason and for the most part, it’s paid off.
Trading for and extending Sonny Gray has worked as Gray has pitched to a 3.42 ERA and 3.25 FIP with a career-high 10.36 K/9 on the season. Fellow tradee Tanner Roark has pitched to a solid 3.99 ERA while Yasiel Puig has hit 22 home runs and stolen 13 bases in the heart of the Reds lineup.
Despite logging a +30 run differential – the second-best mark in the division and sixth-best in the NL, the Reds are just 43-39. According to MLB.com, they deserve to be 50-42 based on run differential in the games they have played. Such a record would have them two games back of the Cubs.
I liked them as a pre-season sleeper and to be quite honest, they’ve performed well. Their pitching staff ranks third in baseball but the offense has slipped.
I like the Reds’ chances of a miracle run more so than the Pirates, so if I am going to put a wager on a longshot to win this division, it’s the Reds. As per the odds, the chances are slim, but bigger mountains have been climbed.
Los Angeles Dodgers (-100000)
You know your probably pretty good when you are -100000 to win your division before the month of August rolls around.
The Dodgers have some of the best starting pitching in baseball as their starters’ ERA of 3.05 ranks second, only to the Rays who use an opener three out of every five games. Their .341 wOBA ranks third in baseball and their .208 ISO checks in at second behind only the Twins.
The bullpen is one area where the Dodgers could stand to bolster as their 4.18 ‘pen ERA ranks 11th in baseball and given Kenley Jansen’s postseason struggles with the home run ball in 2018, they may want to add another closer-type at the trade deadline.
Still, it’s going to be oh so difficult to beat these Dodgers come October as they look to shake off their World Series demons of the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
The Dodgers are a lock to win the NL West, but these astronomical odds make a wager next to impossible.
Arizona Diamondbacks (+5000)
The D-backs were sent to the basement by many pundits the moment Paul Goldschmidt was traded, but here they are in contention for at least one of the two Wild Card spots.
Arizona also lost A.J. Pollock and Daniel Descalso in free agency, but Pollock has once again been injured while their free agent signing of Adam Jones has been a boon to their offense. Arizona’s offense has been better than expected with a .322 wOBA on the season, tied with the Rays for 14th.
Led by Zack Greinke and his 2.95 ERA, their starting pitching has been good as well with a 4.10 ERA, tied with the Cardinals for 10th in the bigs. The D-backs don’t seem likely to be buyers at the deadline and perhaps they’ll sell as Robbie Rays’ name is in the rumor mill, but it’s still quite likely they stay put and go for it with the squad they already have in place.
Like the remaining four teams in this division, there’s no wager to be had here but the D-backs have done well to contend in a crowded NL Wild Card race.
Colorado Rockies (+2500)
The Rockies have disappointed this season and it’s not hard to see why.
Look no further than their pitching staff as to why this team is under .500, and more specifically, their starting pitching.
The Rockies rank dead-last with a 5.77 ERA from their starting rotation this season while their bullpen ERA of 4.85 (21st) hasn’t helped matters a whole lot. Sure, their extreme hitter-friendly home park at Coors Field in Colorado doesn’t help either as Colorado actually ranks fourth with a 3.96 ERA on the road despite an 11th-ranked 4.50 FIP, but they’re still just 26-23 at home. The opposing team’s pitching staff is dealing with the same conditions at Coors Field and the Rockies just haven’t been able to win games at home.
They haven’t been able to gain momentum for much of the season and there’s no chance they catch the MLB-best Dodgers for the division lead at this point.
San Francisco Giants (+10000)
Hey, give the Giants credit as they hang around the outskirts of the deep Wild Card race in the National League.
Almost sure to be sellers at the deadline, however, it’s quite likely the front office would rather cash in on another huge season from closer Will Smith and trade franchise starter Madison Bumgarner before he enters the open market at the conclusion of the season.
There’s simply far too many teams in this NL Wild Card race for the Giants to leap them all given their lack of talent up and down the lineup as well as in the starting rotation. They do, however, have a dominant bullpen that ranks fourth in the bigs with a 3.89 ERA on the season. Expect the top pieces from that group, including Smith, to be moved by the July 31st trade deadline.
Zero chance a wager should be placed on the Giants here, but give them credit for squeezing this much out of a team that is one of, if not the worst team in baseball on paper.
San Diego Padres (+4500)
The Padres are set to be among the most exciting teams in baseball for the foreseeable future thanks to a player such as Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Hunter Renfroe, assuming the latter isn’t dealt as rumored.
They also sport one of the top farm systems in baseball, meaning they are in good shape to either continue to develop or flip some high-end prospects for moves that will help them win beginning in 2020.
2019 might be a stretch, however. They are among the teams within an arm’s length of a Wild Card spot in the NL, but like with the Giants, there’s still too many teams to climb and it will take a serious hot stretch to make that happen.
Progress has been made, however, and Padres fans are in for some entertaining baseball for many years to come.
No wager this year, but keep an eye on the Padres for some futures plays in the 2020 season.